From being called 'Vasant Sena' in 70s to backing Congress candidates for Presidential polls during UPA, Sena has history of flirting with Congress.
Even if one disapproves of any other achievements of the Modi government, they would surely agree on the fact that post 2014 general elections, a large chunk of Indian population became politically aware, which was not the case before that. Owing to meteoric rise in Mr Modi's popularity, many started following politics, even if it was only to support him and his party. However, in many cases, this new batch of political enthus has no awareness of the politics in the past other than what has been fed to them by the party they follow, and it shows!
BJP-Sena alliance & breakup
Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and Shivsena had been allies for over two decades. The two right-wing parties, very natural companions for each other due to their ideologies, had struggled together in opposition before they came to power in 2014 in the state and the centre. It indeed was a dream come true for the two parties that had sat on opposition benches for too long.
During those years in opposition, while Congress was their main foe at the centre, it was the Congress and NCP alliance that they were fighting in Maharashtra. It was very obvious of leaders from the Shiv Sena and BJP to criticise leaders of the Congress-NCP back then and call them names.
Yet, in a bizarre turn of events post 2019 assembly elections in the Western state, Shiv Sena and BJP fell out over the chief ministerial post. The long time allies did not even meet to discuss government formation even after their alliance had won a clear majority. The Mumbai-based Shiv Sena opened a back-channel discussions with Sharad Pawar's NCP, which played an important role to bring the Congress onboard. In the end, the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress together formed a coalition government in Maharashtra. The BJP, despite being a single largest party, had to sit in opposition in one of the richest states in the country.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray being greeted by NCP chief Sharad Pawar after he was chosen as the nominee for Maharashtra chief ministers post by Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance.
Taunts to Sena
However, since the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena jumped ships and joined hands with its former rivals, the BJP has not left any stone unturned to remind it of the things it had said in the past about its current allies. Many BJP leaders, on several occasions, remind the Mumbai-based party of the comments its founder late Bal Thackeray had made about the Congress and NCP. The references are often about the Italian origin of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose planned elevation to the Prime Ministerial post was strongly criticised by Bal Thackeray when Sena was in opposition. Shiv Sena is also targeted for distancing itself from the radical Hindutva, which predominantly targets the Muslim minority.
On the ninth death anniversary of Shiv Sena's founder and widely revered political leader in Maharashtra Bal Thackeray, let us look at the truth behind rivalry between Sena and Congress, and whether senior Thackeray would have approved of the alliance with Congress had he been alive.
While the new batch of political enthus may have been caught by surprise, those aware of the past of Shiv Sena were not surprised by the party's outreach to seek support from the Congress and NCP post 2019 assembly elections.
From backing Congress candidates for Presidential polls to not fielding candidate against Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, Sena has had history of flirting with it's so called enemies.
Bal Thackeray, whose name is invoked by the BJP to target Sena's alliance with Congress, had tied up with Congress formally and informally on several occasions since the party's journey began in 1966.
In the late 60s and through 70s, Shiv Sena was often accused by its critics of being used by the Congress to counter the influence of the left on the labour unions in the financial capital of the country. Many have even alleged that it was Congress party that propped up Shiv Sena. Sena was often supported directly or indirectly by Congress leaders of different factions. It was so much so that Ramrao Adik, a senior Congress leader in the state back then, was reportedly present for the first every rally of the Bal Thackeray's party.
Bal Thackeray even backed the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi and did not field a single candidate in the 1977 Election. The Sena also backed Congress' Murli Deora as mayoral candidate in 1977 Elections.
Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The Congress' influence on the Bal Thackeray-led party was so much that it was mocked as 'Vasant Sena', a reference to then Congress Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik.
During the assembly polls, the party allied with Congress (I), a faction led by Indira Gandhi. It fielded 33 candidates for the polls, but all of them lost in the wake of anti-Indira wave in the country.
After Indira Gandhi's death, the bonhomie between the grand old party and Shiv Sena could not last and ended in the 80s. During Rajiv Gandhi's tenure, and then under Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the relationship soured between the two parties. Shiv Sena tilted towards Hindutva in mid-80s and gravitated towards the BJP.
However, in the later years, the Mumbai-based party also broke ranks with the BJP-led NDA and voted for Congress-backed Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in presidential elections.
Bal Thackeray with Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar in Mumbai.
Bal Thackeray & personal attacks
Bal Thackeray, perhaps, would not have hesitated to tie up with the Congress again, had the political circumstances demanded.
The BJP leaders, criticising the Shiv Sena by using old remarks of Bal Thackeray, must understand that it was out of political compulsion that he criticised the GOP. With many of them inducted in saffron party from other parties, no one better than them can understand that there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. Moreover, with history of friendship with Congress going back to more than 50 years, it should not have come as a surprise when Sena decided to tie up with the Congress.
On the day when we remember Bal Thackeray, we should also make sure that personal attacks in politics are avoided. Despite being fiercest critic of Sharad Pawar's politics, Bal Thackeray remained a very good friend with the Pawars and family. It should not come as a surprise that Pawar was the one who orchestrated the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, which made Bal Thackeray's son a chief minister.
Instead of personal remarks, the saffron party should rather focus on the issues of Maharashtra's citizens, because that's probably the only way for them to return to power, not political mudslinging.